Earlier this season, one of the worries in fantasy was that playoff seedings would by and large be wrapped up early this year, leaving fantasy players scrambling for replacements for players on playoff teams who would be little-used. Instead, almost nothing is decided about the 2013 playoff situation. The Patriots could realistically have a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, or they could be the AFC's No. 3 seed, and it could swing either way just on Sunday. The Patriots play a 1 p.m. ET game Sunday in Miami against the division rival Dolphins, who are tied for the AFC's sixth seed but lose the tiebreaker for now, and as such can't afford any more losses this season. The fantasy outlook for Sunday's game is similarly confusing:
Start in every league: Shane Vereen, Julian Edelman, Stephen Gostkowski
Start if you're desperate: Tom Brady, Danny Amendola, Josh Boyce, Defense/special teams
Bench: Stevan Ridley, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins
Vereen has been the Patriots' leading pass target since his return from injury, and that will likely only go up in the wake of the season-ending ACL tear to tight end Rob Gronkowski. In PPR leagues, few players have more value, but Vereen is getting enough attention to be fully valuable in standard leagues as well. ... After struggling to find value in the middle of the season, Edelman has averaged 15.7 fantasy points a game in his last three. Among the wide receivers, he's easily been the most productive of late, and that will only continue with Gronkowski out. ... Gostkowski has been fantasy's top kicker, and has made at least two field goals in every game this season, with only two misses.
The truth is, Brady will probably be fine. He's still a stud quarterback. But he had his struggles early in the season with Gronkowski sidelined, and the Dolphins tend to slow down quarterbacks; there's the chance that Brady falls back to mid-level QB status. ... Amendola has been a huge disappointment, both for the Patriots and for fantasy owners; while his looks should rise this week, he's been so mediocre that it's impossible to rely on him. ... With so many other pass-catchers in New England injured, Boyce is one of the few healthy options, and he's more in the field-lengthening Gronkowski mold than Amendola or Edelman or Vereen. It's a big wild card, but Boyce could be a fantasy helper in Week 15.
Between injury, battles for touches and general ineffectiveness, no one left alive in the fantasy playoffs should be touching Ridley, Blount, Bolden, Thompkins or Dobson with a pole of any length. Just stay away.
Start in every league: Ryan Tannehill, Charles Clay
Start if you're desperate: Daniel Thomas, Mike Wallace, Caleb Sturgis
Bench: Lamar Miller, Brian Hartline, Rishard Matthews, Defense/special teams
After averaging 12.4 fantasy points through Week 5, Tannehill has averaged 17.3 since, with his three highest-scoring games of the season coming in his last three games. If he were to have maintained that 17.3 average over the full season, he'd be the No. 7 fantasy quarterback. He's a stealthy playoff play for owners still waiting on Aaron Rodgers or those who don't want to ride Jay Cutler just back from injury. ... Clay has been fantasy's No. 5 tight end, and has averaged 11.5 fantasy points in his last four, with six touchdowns on the season. He's a must-start.
Thomas had a huge game Sunday, with 105 yards and a score. If Miller's concussion issues force him to miss Sunday, Thomas would slide up to a surefire start. No one saw it coming, but he's been better than Miller on a per-game basis this season. ... Wallace delivered a dud in the snow Sunday after two straight big games, with only 19 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He had his fewest targets since Week 3. Odds are, he'll be fine, but seeing his production slide back had to worry fantasy owners. ... Sturgis has had at least eight fantasy points in six straight games, with multiple field goals in all six. His light early-season production has his overall value depressed, but he's right up there with the bigger-name kickers.
Miller has been disappointing this season, and now is dealing with a concussion. There are a lot of reasons to stay away. He's not worth the risk. ... Hartline has scored in two straight games, but didn't top seven fantasy points any time between Weeks 4 and 12. He's not someone you want to count on to win a playoff matchup. ... Unless something changes, this is probably Matthews' last week even warranting mention in this space; he's been a black hole for production lately, and will be "just another guy." ... The Dolphins' defense has actually been a top-10 unit this year, but is coming off a one-point outing, and has had wild fluctuations in production. Against a good New England offense, it's not a unit you want to rely on.